I recently saw an interview by Brian Rose, founder of London Real, of Peter Sage, the motivational speaker and entrepreneur, whom I had met way back when in my early London days. I am grateful to Peter for first putting the ‘4 Kingdoms of Consciousness’ model on my radar. More on that in another blogpost. Peter was quoting one of Tony Robbins‘ core teachings that the strongest force in the human personality is the need to be consistent with our identity. It’s why Robbins spends so much time getting people very clear, compelled and anchored on what vision of themselves they are living into and then feeling and embodying it in the present. It’s really powerful for galvanizing action.
Those of engaged in inner work know that a big part of the territory involves disidentification or becoming less identified. Less identified with our roles, less identified with our personas, less identified with external validation, less identified with our ego structures, less identified with being right, less identified with our story about our upbringing. You get the picture. Just don’t identify with it 🙂
As we mature as leaders and beings, this is the part of the journey we are undertaking – as we are less identified, we create more freedom for us to respond as needed in any situation we face without habitual response. It’s similar kind of thing that a good bodyworker will be asking of your body. My friend Gabriel Posner, who’s a somatics practitioner and educator, once read to me from Thomas Hanna, the founder of Somatic Education: can the body come from rest to respond spontaneously, naturally and in freedom to what is being asked of it? Most of us, myself totally indicted, have a whole set of constraints, tears and restricted pathways that our bodies are responding through. Just last week when I was on my back with my bodyworker and he was asking me to make various movements in my legs against his resistance, it was remarkable to notice how much I responded from my lower back before even mobilizing in my legs. And, I presume, that I have been doing that for a while, all in a relatively unconscious way.
So here’s the rub. Developing identities is not only part of life but it’s also a great mobilizer of human energy. When you first take on a new career identity, initially a big part of the work is simply to see yourself in that identity and to believe that others could see you in that identity. It’s one of the reasons it can be instructive to take on free clients, purely so you start to inhabit the role and feel of what it’s like to be a consultant, coach, writer or any business service provider. My friend Ross Hostetter, who came on my webshow last year, was the one who foregrounded how important feeling comfortable in the new identity is before you can really start to get traction with it. It made sense from my own experiences of it: being a graduate entrepreneur in the UK with Future Foundations, especially one claiming to offer advice to people on their development, was not an easy identity to take on. I remember the potential for being embarrassed when my parents would say to other friends’ parents ‘we are not quite sure what Jack is up to?’ even after I’d explained it time and again. In short, my identity was being questioned.
So how to be with all this identity stuff skillfully? The embrace I am suggesting – if both the power of identity and the need to misidentify make sense to you – is to be both. I previously did a Facebook post about whether to run for personal bests or whether to run for the process and love of running. My conclusion was you need both at different times. Both results AND process/instrinsic value are important. And so it is with you. Your personal history matters. Your social context and roles matter. What really calls inside you to become matters. And at the same time, they are ways in which no of it matters. That you are just one of over seven billion people. That you may sometimes experience yourself as free attention, consciousness itself, boundless. That even your most personal experiences like sex are part of an impersonal act that happens more than a billion times a week for humans, let alone all the other species we share our planet with.
Where we run into trouble is where we make a teaching all-pervasive, rather than seeing it as true but partial. If I think the whole game is constructing the most compelling identity I can and striving hard after it, then I am only becoming more fixated in my ego structure. Conversely, if take certain spiritual truths beyond their effective realm, if I think the whole game is never to assume an identity, if I proclaim there is no ‘I’ here or if I imagine that all self-improvement is merely super-egoic inner critic, then I am liable to diminish my ability to increase excellence, competence and manifest dreams.
Being with that paradox is a developmental achievement. What does that mean? It means most people won’t be following me by now. William Torbert, the leadership development expert, would put this at least level 6 on his 1-7 scale. So if you’re with me, realize you may well be one of the 5%. But don’t identify with it! Can you get this? It’s about seeing things as they are but not embellishing the meaning. I remember the first time Diana Chapman, the no-nonsense CEO adviser, was drilling me about both our total significance (there is a unique purpose unfolding in you, for example) and our total insignificance, in her garden in Santa Cruz, it just made sense to me. It’s also helps militate against out getting too caught up in the project of self. Said differently, does it make sense to get too identified with your own story, issues and working surfaces when you’re just one amongst so so many in a universe of so so much?
Think of identities like clothing garments. We can put them on and we can take them off. I think it’s a better analogy than say golf clubs because we can wear many clothes and identities at once. The key is to know what clothing is best suited for a particular occasion. And then to be able to take it off and not still be attached to it or stuck in some social comparison.